By the numbers: ‘A priority in public education for hiring people outside the classroom’

OKLAHOMA CITY – “Clearly, there is a priority in public education for hiring people outside the classroom.”

That startling sentence is at the core of a detailed analysis of fiscal issues in public education, presented in the Sooner State’s capital city this month. Professor Ben Scafidi of Georgia’s Kennesaw State University supported his conclusion with a range of data he sorted and summarized.

In an interview with this reporter, Scafidi reviewed his analysis of a widely-unnoticed trend public school finance and expenditures over several decades.

Prof. Scafidi’s evidence comes from the National Center for Education Statistics.

From Fiscal Year 1992 to FY 2013, the number of students in Oklahoma public schools increased by 14 percent. The total number of school staff increased 21 percent. However, the number of lead teachers only increased by 11 percent.

In the category of “other staff” Prof. Scafidi found an increase of 33 percent 1992-2013.

The center’s data can be found in the 1994 Digest at Table 40, the 1995 digest at Table 84, and the 2014 digest at tables 203.20 and 213.20.

In his exchange with this reporter, Scafidi frequently spoke in quotable “standard English” (as in the lead sentence of this story) – but he also referenced what economists call the “opportunity cost” to the education system for policies actually followed, rather than possible alternatives.

He posed in our interview (and later in a speech) the question: “What if Oklahoma had increased non-teaching staff at the same rate as its increase in students?”

For the years summarized above, he answered that “would have saved Oklahoma public schools over $294,100,000 per year in annual recurring savings.”

Scafidi asked, “What could Oklahoma public schools do with $294.1 million a year?”

It could do any one of the following, he answered:

Provide 36,771 students with $8,000 scholarships to attend the school of their choice,” or “give every Oklahoma teacher a $7,042 raise,” or

Reduce state or local taxes.”

In response to a question, Scafidi agreed that policymakers could have, in the alternate scenario, done some mix of each of those objectives.

The particulars for Oklahoma were, to be sure, a sub-set of broader national trends – some echoing the picture here, some distinctive.

From Fiscal Year 1992 to FY 2009, the number of students in American public schools increased by 17 percent. In that era, the total number of public school personnel increased 39 percent. Of that, the number of teachers increased 32 percent, while the number of administrators and other staff jumped 46 percent.

Adapting the time frame for FY 1992 through FY 2013, Prof. Scafidi found an 18 percent increase in the number of students, and a total 36 percent jump in staff. Of the staff increase, the number of teachers increased 28 percent, while the number for “other staff” increased by 44 percent.

For a much longer period of time Scafidi distilled in his analysis, nationwide total administrative and other staff in the United States grew by 702 percent from 1950 to Fiscal Year 2009. However, in the same era, the number of teachers grew by “only” 252 percent. Total school personnel expanded 386 percent in that 59 year period.

The increase came while the number of students enrolled in public schools increased 96 percent.

In summary form, the information Scafidi relied upon can be found in the National Center for Education Statistics’ 1991 Digest, Tables 39 and 84; and in the 2008 Digest, Table 87. The center is an arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Prof. Scafidi runs the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State. He is a professor of Economics, Finance & Quantitative Analysis in the university’s Coles College of Business. He is also a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice. 

CapitolBeatOK interviewed Prof. Scafidi shortly before he spoke early this month at the Advance Center for Free Enterprise, west of the headquarters for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), south of the state Capitol on North Lincoln Boulevard in the heart of Oklahoma City.

In recent literature, OCPA has characterized Scafidi’s findings as documenting “the $7,000 pay raisse that wasn’t.”

The professor from the Peach State was the latest in a series of speakers addressing substantive policy issues relating to public education and school choice programs, at the regular meeting of the School Choice Coalition.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill Price, also a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education, is chairman of the coalition.